Category Archives: Spotlight Series

Utah Teacher Receives CEC Graduate Student of the Year Award

heather-raithelCongratulations to Heather Raithel, selected as the 2017 Council of Exceptional Children (CEC) Graduate Student of Year Award Recipient! She is a teacher at Utah Virtual Academy and in the Transition Masters Program at Utah State University. Heather will be honored at the CEC 2017 Convention & Expo in St. Louis, during the Student Forum on Thursday, April 20, as well as recognizes on the CEC website.

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Spotlight on Susan Loving, Transition Specialist

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Susan Loving, Transition Specialist at the Utah State Office of Education.

Susan Loving has a rich history in the field of Transition.  She has been working with transition programs since 1991, when she was assigned the responsibility of co-manager of the STUDY Project Grant (a federal systems-change grant) in Tooele School District.

I was ready for a change from providing speech-language services full time, so I welcomed the opportunity to do something different. In working with transition planning and programs, I realized that the purpose of school is to prepare students for adult life, not just to graduate them with a diploma.

Susan currently serves as the Education Specialist for Transition at the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) – Special Education Section. She admits that is a long title, so she usually says she is the Transition Specialist at the USOE. She works with school district and charter school staff, representatives of agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation and DSPD, parent groups, community and advocacy groups – any individual or group of individuals who work with and support transition-aged youth.

Susan’s responsibilities are broad in nature.

The USOE is responsible for ensuring that all eligible students attending Utah school districts and charter schools are receiving a free appropriate public education (FAPE), as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Appropriate timely transition planning is part of a FAPE for a student of transition age.

To that end, Susan is charged with  providing professional development and technical assistance to educators, administrators, families, and other state and community agencies regarding transition planning, agency collaboration, etc. She says that the medium through which this is carried out varies -through a one-on-one phone conversation or site visit, an on-site training session or webinar, or a state-level activity.

Every year, states are required to report the results of state-level activities to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP); the report, titled the “Annual Performance Report”, addresses student outcomes in a variety of areas. I am responsible for reporting on Utah’s graduation and dropout rates for students with disabilities, the prevalence of complete transition plans in the IEP, and post school outcomes (engagement in education and employment/training) of students with disabilities.

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Spotlight on Teresa Berden Clarkson, Transition Teacher

Teresa Clarkson has worked as a Transition Teacher and CTE Career Coach.

Teresa Clarkson has worked as a Transition Teacher and CTE Career Coach.

Teresa Berden Clarkson has a well established and admirable career working with students with disabilities.  She first began teaching 20 years ago at a Western Michigan University with student services.  She progressed to St. Clair County Community College – first as a Placement Specialist and then as a Career Counselor, continuing on the Macomb Community College as a Special Services Counselor.   Teresa then took  a detour back to secondary education in Grand County School District in Utah where she works as a Special Educator and CTE Career Coach.   Teresa’s current job responsibilities include counseling students in CTE pathways and Program of Study; surveying CTE graduates; collaborating with secondary, post-secondary, and industry partners; promoting College & Career Readiness Standards; coordinating the Grand County High School Annual Career Fair; advocatingfor CTE scholarship applicants; and assisting with Work-Based Learning Opportunities.

I serve a diverse range of students – exceptional learners, CTE technical students, at-risk populations, and gifted/talented from middle school to college age adults.

When asked what has been the most important development in Transition, Teresa states that,

new online transition assessment tools which allow teachers to gather transition data and compare results from student, teacher, and a parent prospective. The most positive things about working in Transition are when the joy you see on the face of students when they get their first job or get a paid internship position.  Every student should experience the sense of accomplishment for achieving a goal such as graduation or other milestone.

Teresa feels that the biggest challenge in her work with Transition students is often not with students, but with family members.

It is important for students to play an active role in their transition process; therefore, parents often struggle with letting their child set a goal for themselves for the first time.  Parents occasionally need support/coaching on how to help students create realistic, achievable goals.

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Spotlight on Janalyn Duersch, Transition Teacher

Janalyn Duersch knew as a teenager that she wanted to be a Special Education Teacher. She began her career as a staff assistant 22 years ago and after 4 years began her journey to pursue that dream. “I knew what I wanted to be when I was 14. My family friend was a special ed teacher at Logan High School and encouraged me to get a job as a staff assistant while I was in college so that I could garner experience. He helped me to get a job at Logan High. I did my degree at Utah State University and worked at Logan High simultaneously.”

Janalyn Duersch works n the Adult Transition Program in the Ogden School District in Ogden Utah.

Janalyn Duersch works n the Adult Transition Program in the Ogden School District in Ogden Utah. 

Janalyn is a teacher in the Adult Transition Program in the Ogden School District in Ogden Utah where her primary job is teaching students with moderate-severe disabilities ages 18-22 in a community based post high school program. She determines student needs to create plans and instruction for independent living skills, vocational skills, post-secondary education, community skills, social skills, hygiene skills and functional academics. She also delivers instruction, advocates for and links students and their families with community agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation, Division of Services for People with Disabilities and The Utah Independent Living Center. Janalyn supervises staff, completes requisite paperwork (“Oh so much paperwork!”), collaborates with agencies, coordinates and creates job placements with local businesses, teams with other teachers, collects and analyzes data and disseminates information to the community.

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